RS:X racer Emma Wilson is still only 16 but already has a string of titles to her name. Emma is aiming for the top with 2020 in her sights, here we find out more about Emma’s life, racing and sibling rivalries…
Emma Wilson is reflecting on her performance at her first ever senior Europeans in Palermo, Sicily last month.
Still only 16, Emma opted to compete at the Seniors, instead of at the Youth Europeans, as she wanted as little pressure as possible having only completed her GCSEs days before flying out to the Italian island.
Emma figured she could chill out, enjoy her racing and learn from the best in a fleet where no one was expecting anything from her but her. The result? Gold Fleet, 22nd European overall, 4th Under 21, 3rd Brit and a massive smile!
It’s pretty much par for the course for the Christchurch talent who first sprung onto the radar claiming the 2011 BIC Techno U15 World crown, aged just 12, before hitting the headlines lifting the U17 and U19 World and U17 European titles last year and being named YJA Young Sailor of the Year Award for her feats.
This year has seen her continue her breakthrough to the senior ranks, including competing at the ISAF World Cup Miami in January, just after finishing her mock GCSEs. Not that she is about to start getting carried away.
“I’m only 16, I know I’ve got a long way to go still, I have to keep things in perspective,” she says.
“Having fun and taking as much from every experience as I can has to be the reason I do this. I do get upset when little things don’t go right, but once I’ve got home and reflected on it, I have to leave it behind and move on.
“I knew I was fast going into the Europeans. A few weeks before I was training in Weymouth and Bryony Shaw invited me to go and join in with them. It was an amazing, unreal experience and afterwards I was so happy.
“Then at the Europeans Bryony was right next to me rigging up every day and I learned so much being around her and the other athletes especially about professionalism and what you need to perform at that level. It was really positive.”
This positivity certainly had an impact on the teen as in a qualifying fleet that included 2014 RS:X World Champion, Charline Picon, she achieved her pre-event objective of securing a place in 33-strong Gold Fleet, along with Shaw, Izzy Hamilton and British Sailing Team Podium Potential talent Imogen Sills. Two eighth place finishes on day two buoyed her confidence going into the tough final round.
Emma admits the level of competition was “so hard” but sticking to the basics of nailing starts, keeping things simple, and most importantly, enjoying herself paid off.
It’s a far cry from the days when shyness stopped her from even wanting to race in RYA Zone Squad selections.
Growing up as the daughter of two-time Olympian and three-time World champion, Penny Wilson (nee Way), it looks inevitable that Emma and her older brother Daniel would be windsurfers. But, despite their mum’s international success, the siblings were never pushed towards racing; rather it was hockey Emma loved most.
Penny taught Daniel and Emma to windsurf on Mudeford Bay, simply passing on her love of the sport to her children. But once Daniel caught the racing bug, it didn’t take long for sibling rivalry to spur Emma into following him. With Daniel also shining as part of the RYA Youth Squad, it’s a rivalry that still spurs the pair on today.
“I was always really competitive but once Daniel started racing seriously I just wanted to beat him!” Emma continues. “I wasn’t really into it to start with. I just wanted to eat ice cream and hang out!
“I was so shy as a kid, I still am. I was doing RYA Team15 events and fortunately one of the coaches thought I had some potential and invited me to Zone Squad training. That’s when I started progressing, because I made good friends and loved going to training camps. When you’re that age you just want to have fun with your friends.
“The rivalry between me and Daniel is still there now when we’re training. We argue on the water but off it we’re just like any brother and sister and it’s nice to be able to support each other at events.”
The whole Wilson family often travels to events, with dad John, Marketing Director at Wattbike Ltd, typically acting as mentor to Daniel while Penny looks after Emma.
Emma explains how Penny fulfills a very specific supporting role: “My mum is just my mum, and that’s the way we like it. We’re like best friends.
“Mum doesn’t put any pressure on us because she was a windsurfer, she encourages us because she’s our mum.
“She doesn’t have to look results to see how I’ve done, she can just tell by looking at me. She knows when to say something and when to leave me alone. If I ask her something about windsurfing she will help, but she will never force it on me or tell me what I should be doing. Her racing experience is so valuable; I will ask her tactical things more than technical as she knows what it’s like to race in experienced fleets.
“To be honest it didn’t really sink in what Mum achieved in windsurfing until I was competing at the 2011 Worlds in San Francisco and everyone knew her! She saw loads of her old friends and people she used to compete against who are coaching now like Alessandra Sensini. It’s pretty cool to be able to ask her questions about it.”
Ever since watching Dame Kelly Holmes win double gold at Athens 2004, Emma has wanted to be an Olympian. But she, like many young windsurfers, faced the prospect of that dream never being realised when windsurfing was provisionally axed from the Games for Rio 2016.
Emma tried kitesurfing while as a regional hockey representative, she thought this now maybe where her Olympic ambitions lay. Emma and Daniel carried on training throughout this period of uncertainty, Emma even starting transitioning to the RS:X. But once windsurfing was reinstated as an Olympic discipline, Emma quit hockey and now has her eyes firmly on the windsurfing prize.
Later this month she competes at the RS:X Youth Worlds in Poland before bidding to win her place in the British Youth Sailing Team for December’s ISAF Youth Sailing World Championship in Malaysia. She also has one other very important event she is tempted to test her mettle at.
Emma concludes: “It would be pretty cool to do the senior Worlds in Oman in October. To get experience racing in a fleet with people all at the top of their game and trying to perform going into an Olympic year will be a good experience.
“I’ve got my eyes on the next Olympic cycle for 2020, so anything that can help me be in contention for that has to be a positive.”